Written by Melissa Smith, volunteer at CAT (Cat Assistance Taskforce) Garden Route and Lianca Saayman
Professional photography by And so it is Photography
In June 2017, the country watched, horrified, as most of the Garden Route was engulfed in rampant wildfires. Aside from the toll on life for both people and animals, hundreds of pets went missing from their homes, many of them cats which bolted in fear and got lost or whose homes were destroyed.
We at CAT Garden Route have been helping to reunite the cats displaced by the Knysna fires with their owners and finding them new ones if needed.
A cageful of angry cat
We placed a cat trap at a guesthouse on Main Road in Knysna. When we returned, the cage was literally filled with a big, black cat. This big boy was so fierce with hissing and growling that we feared he’d attack through the bars of the cage.
I took him to Knysna Animal Welfare (KAWS) to check for a microchip (sadly, there wasn’t one) and to make sure that he hadn’t been injured at all by the fires. He had to be sedated and continued to protest until the drugs took effect. The vet checked him thoroughly, sterilised him on the spot while he was under, and checked for a microchip.
KAWS had an outbreak of snuffles so it was agreed that CAT Garden Route’s Rita Brock would foster him while he waited out the week-long “pound period”.
Like a caged tiger
Rita is a cat expert of many years standing and even she was deeply concerned about his aggressive response to all who came near him. She worked with Mr Grumpy – as we’d named him – every day, hoping to pet him, but he responded like a caged tiger! We all despaired because it didn’t look like we’d be able to home him if he was so unapproachable. His future looked bleak.
Fortunately, Lianca Saayman and her sons came forward and agreed to take him on. Rita carefully explained that he was a special case, and showed Lianca some Tellington Touch® techniques to help him become more relaxed. Lianca was determined to help this unhappy cat that had developed a case of snuffles from being so stressed.
Rita couldn’t believe it when hours later she received a video of Mr Grumpy being kissed and cuddled and full of purrs!
Lianca Saayman, Mr Grumpy’s new owner, shares…
I’d seen Rita’s post about finding a home for Mr Grumpy doing the rounds on Facebook for about two weeks. I, like many others, Liked the post with a sad smiley face.
Rita was upfront and said that Mr Grumpy needed a family who had experience with angry cats. I had NO experience with this, so I just hoped that someone would foster him and scrolled on.
I saw her post a few days later… and a few days after that. Rita was still sharing the post and hoping that Mr Grumpy would be fostered, rehabilitated and adopted. I thought to myself: Heck, I’m a full-time working single mom of two busy boys, a cat, a dog and two fish; if I can manage that, I can manage an angry cat.
I messaged Rita and said: “I’m up for the challenge.” We spoke on the phone soon thereafter and started making arrangements to meet.
Meeting Mr Grumpy
When arriving at Rita’s house, before we even met him, she explained that he was a very, very, very (did I say very?) angry cat. Nervous but curious, I entered the room; she pointed at a cage which was covered in a blanket.
I heard him hissing before I even saw him. Rita pulled the blanket off slowly and there he was: an enormous, angry black cat with golden eyes, about three or four years of age. Not only did he remind me of an angry dragon, he sure acted like one as well. He hissed. He spat. He clawed the cage. My son gave me one look, as if to say, “Mom, this is bonkers, let’s get out of here…”.
Rita and I stood next to Mr Grumpy whilst she was explaining some calming and rehabilitating techniques that she’d learned in her 17+ years dealing with rescued and feral cats. Through the hisses and angry meows coming from Mr Grumpy to my left, I listened to Rita but found myself eventually sitting on the floor next to him, staring into those golden angry eyes.
I wondered about his past
I couldn’t help but wonder about the trauma he’d experienced during and after the Knysna fires. Rita said that they weren’t sure if he’d been abandoned by his humans long before the fires, or after… or if he’d got lost and his humans had moved away. She’d looked for his owners and checked all missing animal posts, but nothing matched his description. He was semi-feral, but not 100%. He used to have a home. A beautiful cat like that is not born an alley cat.
I thought to myself that if I’d lost my humans, if I’d been caught up in a fire, if I’d had to fight others for food and shelter, if I were stuck in a cage, I’d be pissed off too.
While we were talking, Rita moved closer to the cage and he literally rattled his cage going into a fit of rage. I’d never seen a cat spit and hiss like that before.
Right at that moment, a quote from Dr Seuss’ Lorax popped into my mind: “It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.” I Immediately said to Rita: “Okay, let’s load his cage into my car and let’s get him home.”
The trip home was a quiet one. Mr Grumpy didn’t make one sound; not one peep or hiss.
I took the cage to my room, closed the bedroom door and opened his cage door. He ran out – right under the bed and, by the looks of it, decided that he was going to stay there. Forever if he had to.
Carefully and slowly, I crawled under the bed and lay next to him. I kept moving closer and closer every now and then. He of course growled, hissed and spat at me, all the while swinging those big paws viciously. But never touching me once with his claws. He just wanted to let me know that he could fight if he had to.
I slowly presented him with the chicken livers I’d prepared earlier for him, lightly fried in salted butter (the idea being to tempt him). Bit for bit it curbed his interest and he would turn his head, but when he saw that I was watching him, he would look away. I don’t know if it was the two hours that I spent on my tummy next to him under my bed, or the smell of the livers, but he eventually crawled closer to me and started eating.
And that, it turned out, did the trick. A few minutes afterwards, he walked out from underneath the bed and straight into my arms where I was sitting on the floor.
Just there, Mr Grumpy began his love affair with our family. It’s like he knew that he was safe, that he would be cared for, that he would be loved and that he would no longer have to fight for survival. I think he was just so tired of it all.
So much to say
He still has a way to go in terms of his rehabilitation; he is still very jumpy when there’s a sudden loud noise (hairdryer, a drop of a fork on the floor), or if you approach him too fast. He allows our other cat, Simba, and dog, Zoë, to lie next to him but not too close, or his alley cat ways come out again; but, boy oh boy, does he love to cuddle in my arms when I’m sitting on the couch or lying in bed.
He has the most unique tone of meow I have ever heard – it’s a raspy meow, rough and scratchy. It’s not the smooth cute meow that a cat usually gives. I guess if Rod Stewart or Joe Cocker had to meow whilst singing a song, it would sound exactly like Mr Grumpy. It’s just the coolest thing to hear. And he is such a talker.
He meows constantly when I get home and follows me like a shadow. When I’m cooking or washing dishes, he lies right between my feet. He basically doesn’t steer more than a metre away from me. He even tells me when he wants to go outside to do his business if he is too lazy to jump out of the window or use his litter box. He will sit at the door and meow until I simply open it. He doesn’t stay outside for longer than five minutes, and the moment he is done doing what has to be done, he runs back into the house like a fireball.
Be the next person
Last night, whilst I was giving him a brush, listening to his soothing purring, I thought back to that hissing, spitting, clawing angry dragon-cat that I’d met just over a month ago.
Sometimes it takes a little more than just pressing “sad smiley face” on a social media page hoping that the next person does something to help. Sometimes we have to be the “next person”. As Dr Seuss wrote in The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”